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Opium, State and Society

Opium, State and Society: China's Narco-Economy and the Guomindang, 1924-1937

Edward R. Slack
Copyright Date: 2001
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  • Book Info
    Opium, State and Society
    Book Description:

    Surprisingly little has been written about the complicated relationship between opium and China and its people. Opium, State, and Society goes a long way toward illuminating this relationship in the Republican period, when all levels of Chinese society--from peasants to school teachers, merchants, warlords, and ministers of finance--were physically or economically dependent on the drug. The centerpiece of this study is an investigation of the symbiotic relationship that evolved between opium and the Guomindang's rise to power in the years 1924-1937. Despite attempts to find other sources of revenue, the Guomindang became increasingly addicted to the tax monies derived from the drug trade prior to the war with Japan. Based solidly on a previously untapped reservoir of archival sources from the People's Republic and Taiwan, this work critically analyzes the complex realities of a government policy that vacillated between prohibition and legalization, and ultimately sought to curtail the cultivation, sale, and consumption of opium through a government monopoly.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6379-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Romanization
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Weights and Measures
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    The most interesting and perplexing relationship that ever evolved between a narcotic drug and a culture is the one involving opium and the Chinese people. Opium first appeared in the Middle Kingdom’s historical record during the Han dynasty (206 b.c.–a.d. 220). Before the seventeenth century, opium was used as a remedy for diarrhea, malaria, and scores of other ailments. It was ingested orally and never viewed as a social vice or a public health concern by the imperial court.¹

    The benign image of opium changed radically with the arrival of the “redhaired barbarians” from Europe. In the final decades...

  7. 1 China’s Narco-Economy in the 1920s and 1930s
    (pp. 6-33)

    Chinese farmers have cultivated the plant known asPapaver somniferumin Latin andyingsuhuain Mandarin for at least a millennium. By 1900, the planting of opium was so widespread that it was jokingly referred to as the national flower(guohua).¹ Both late Qing and early Republican governments had virtually eliminated poppy fields from the Middle Kingdom between 1906 and 1917, but opium made a rapid comeback during the Warlord Era and continued to be China’s leading cash crop until the early years of Communist rule.

    Peasants have traditionally cultivated the five grains(wugu), which in the twentieth century were...

  8. 2 The Effects of Opium on Chinese Society
    (pp. 34-62)

    Opium’s influence on Chinese society was not simply an economic and political matter. The drug also affected the way Chinese interacted with each other socially and therefore sociologically. To better comprehend the pervasive influence of opium on Chinese society, it is imperative to probe how deeply it had penetrated into the minds, the bodies, and even the organizational life of its citizens.

    One of the cardinal precepts of Confucian tradition is that ofli, which can be variously translated as ritual, etiquette, propriety, or ceremony: the external exemplification of gentlemanly behavior. Perhaps one reason for the drug’s popularity was that...

  9. 3 Guomindang Opium Policy during the Height of Warlordism, 1924–1928
    (pp. 63-85)

    In the Shantou region of Guangdong province, people had a saying that might serve as the mantra for Chinese politics in the 1920s and 1930s: “Xiyapian hui shangyin, chouyapianshui yehui shangyin; yapian yanyin yijie, yapian shuiyin nanjie” (If you smoke opium, you will become addicted; if you collect opium taxes, you will also become addicted. It is easy to cure someone addicted to opium but difficult to cure someone addicted to opium taxes).¹

    The political and economic milieu in which warlordism functioned set limitations on everyone interested in national political centralization. Unification meant rival leaders and factions liquidating or absorbing...

  10. 4 Nanjing’s Response to Attacks on Opium Policy, 1924–1937
    (pp. 86-114)

    The capture of Beijing by the National Revolutionary Army in June 1928 heralded a new era in Chinese history. The Guomindang moved quickly to distance itself from the humiliations China had suffered for a century and more while Beijing was the national seat of power. The choice of Nanjing as the new capital was deliberate as well as symbolic. It was in 1842 in the “Southern Capital” that the Qing government signed the Treaty of Nanjing and in so doing initiated a process that would sign away the dignity and sovereignty of the nation to foreign imperialists by the end...

  11. 5 Practical Determinants of Guomindang Opium Policy
    (pp. 115-148)

    Why did the Guomindang’s efforts to prohibit opium fail so spectacularly? There were two basic reasons for the perpetuation of the warlord system and its addiction to the poppy. During the Northern Expedition, the National Revolutionary Army incorporated militarists and armies it could not control and then exacerbated the situation by appointing many of these warlords and their military commanders to important positions in the party and in national and local governments.¹ Nor did the climax of the Northern Expedition end the high level of military expenditures. Despite two Military Reorganization and Disbandment conferences held in Nanjing in 1929, warlords...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 149-158)

    There were myriad sociological, physiological, economic, and political land mines in China’s road to complete prohibition, particularly in the Nanjing Decade, when Nationalist leaders were expected to achieve a goal that had eluded Chinese governments since the early 1700s. The difficulties they encountered were evident in a dynamic opium policy that vacillated from one side of the issue to the other and for a time even straddled the fence in between. Based on the evidence presented in this volume, one might jump to the conclusion that Guomindang anti-opium campaigns were merely an exercise in deception. Nanjing prioritized raising revenue and...

  13. Appendix
    (pp. 159-174)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 175-212)
  15. Glossary
    (pp. 213-218)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-230)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 231-240)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-241)